The only system in the chart to feature a Core i5 processor, DinoPC’s i5-650-powered Plutosaur 650 budget desktop PC benefits from Turbo Boost.
Budget desktop PCs buying advice
Processor: Intel’s Core i3 processor has the sub-£500 PC category sewn up. This issue, we have examples ranging from the 3.06GHz Core i3-540 to the 3.33GHz Core i3-560. These dual-core chips have integrated graphics processors, allowing vendors to build a capable PC at lower cost by omitting a discrete graphics card.
AMD’s quad-core Phenom II X4 550 BE is another good choice of processor for a budget Windows machine, especially for those who like to tinker – this chip has been designed with overclocking in mind.
Memory: In the post-Vista era, 2GB of RAM is essential. The majority of sub-£500 PCs are now fitted with 4GB.
Some CPUs require DDR3 RAM, while others can use either this or DDR2. DDR3 memory is getting cheaper and bodes well for performance. Check your motherboard has free memory slots if you plan to upgrade later.
Storage: Falling prices mean that 1TB is well within the budget of even a budget PC. You can never have too much storage space, and digital media will quickly fill a reasonably sized drive. Hard-drive space is easy to add later, however.
If you’re planning to upgrade hard drives internally, ensure that you’ve got spare drive bays inside your PC’s case.
Get a drive that can write to the DVDKR formats at 16-speed or better. If you want to get 8.5GB on to one disc, get a drive that can write to dual-layer discs at 12- and eight-speed respectively.
Flat-panel: It’s the component you’ll be spending all your time looking at, but PC makers often compromise on the monitor.
All the PCs in our chart come with flat-panels. Good-quality full-HD monitors are now available even in sub-£500 systems. Expect to find a 21.5in model, although these are often marketed as 22in screens. It’s best to get one with dual inputs and a digital connection (DVI, HDMI or DisplayPort), letting you get the best image quality available and hook up additional devices.
Graphics card: With the best graphics cards retailing for more than £300, a sub-£500 PC is unlikely to satisfy a hardcore gamer. However, decent graphics cards get cheaper all the time, and budget PCs can now handle games that were unthinkable a few months ago.
Intel’s Core i3 and i5 CPUs come with integrated graphics processors that deliver around double the performance of older Intel integrated solutions. These machines support HD video and Windows’ Aero effects without the need for a separate graphics card.
ATI’s Radeon HD 5450 is a popular choice for a budget PC. It doesn’t offer a great speed advantage over Intel GMA integrated graphics, but it offers support for DirectX 11.0. Many cards can also drive multiple monitors, so you can hook up your TV and display at the same time.
If you really want to play games, nVidia’s GeForce GT 240 will provide some extra speed. Be prepared to lower your graphics settings to achieve smooth gameplay, however.
Power supply: Expect only a basic PSU at this price point. Without power-hungry components installed, there’s simply no need for a more powerful supply. A 450W or 500W model is a good starting point.
Sound card and speakers: You’re unlikely to get a standalone sound card at this price point. Most motherboards can handle six-channel sound.
NEXT PAGE: Specification and our expert verdict
- More desktop PC reviews
- Group test: What's the best desktop PC?
- Group test: What's the best £1,000 PC?
- Group test: What's the best £501-£750 PC?
- Group test: What's the best sub-£500 PC?